PB Fine Construction

Article: Remodeling Magazine 2002

Nina Patel – Senior Editor
Photos by – Paul Bardajy

Celeste Elder had outgrown the tiny two-bedroom house she had lived in for 10 years. Instead of searching for a new house in the increasingly expensive Austin area, she and her husband, Jeff, decided to remodel. Webber is an Austin-area architect who, with his partner, WIllard Hanzlik, started Webber+Hanzlik Achitects about five years ago. Webber met with Elder and listened to her requests. She wanted to give the dark hallways and small rooms a more open feel, but she didn’t want to overwhelm the small 1940s house with a large addition. She wanted more space but also wanted the front elevation to remain the same. So Webber opted for a rear expansion to house the new master bedroom instead of a second story. And with the neighbors less than 20 feet from both sides of the house, she needed privacy.

Webber created paper models of several options. He makes models for all his projects because it helps clients picture the remodel. “It also allows us to check if our massing concept has the right proportions,” Webber says. When a customer is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a job, he says, it’s worth spending $1,000 on several models to make sure they are happy with the design.

Elder and Webber had been working with a contractor during the design stage, but his high estimate led them to bid out the project (see “Bidding Time”). It was during this process that they found local contractor Paul Balmuth, owner of PB Construction. Armed with Balmuth’s construction expertise, the homeowner and architect brought their interior and exterior changes to life and turned this plain house into a stylish home.


The original floor plan had what Elder calls a “bowling alley” hallway that stretched from the foyer to the bathroom. “From the front door, you could look right into the pink tiled bathroom,” Elder says. She thought French doors would open up the hall but keep the living and dining rooms separate at the same time. At first, Webber wasn’t sure this would work in the cramped space, but after he incorporated her idea, he thought it worked well.

On one side of the hall is an updated living room with a new fireplace on the far wall. The masonry subcontractor had problems understanding the brick pattern and clearances of the design, and he did not communicate well with his workers. “We built it three times before we were happy,” Balmuth says.Because some of the problems stemmed from a misunderstanding, he paid the mason a few hudnred dollars extra to fix the problems.

The fireplace replaced an existing window, so Webber had to find a way to add light back to the room. He fitted awning windows above low bookcases that flank the fireplace.

Webber also found ways to bring light into other areas. He removed the wall between the dining room and an existing bedroom to create an open entertaining area. He replaced the wall with a divider that has base and upper cabinets fitted around an open area that overlooks the new family room. A convenient pass-through in the wall above the kitchen counter also provides additional light to the dining area and can be closed off with a small sliding door.

Architect David Webber encourages homeowners to choose a contractor in the early stages of the process. “That way, we can design the construction aspect of it so the project fits their abilities,” he says. “We all work together and everyone seems happier in the end.”

But the initial contractor for the Elder project shocked the homeowners with a $425,000 estimate, which was double what Webber had calculated. That’s when Webber contacted Paul Balmuth. Through Webber had never worked with Balmuth, the contractor agreed to evaluate the plans. He came up with a more palatable estimate of $325,—. The homeowners still decided to bid out the job and received two other estimates. After comparing contractors, they chose Balmuth.

The final cost of the remodel was $315,000. Though some of the tile and masonry had to be redone,
Balmuth didn’t add that cost to the total. “If we make a mistake, we don’t take it out of the budget,” he says. He says this attitude contributes to his trustworthy reputation. “We try to deliver more than we promise.”


Webber says Elder’s house, like many in the Austin area, didn’t have a connection to the outdoors. Many homeowners think they need more space, he says, but they may only need to reorient the existing space. “If you have a visual connection to the outdoors, you don’t need more square footage to feel space,” Webber explains.

He added a glass door to the family room and restructured the height and angle of the back deck to make it feel like part of the room. He also specified lots of windows for the master bedroom addition overlooking the back yard.

Webber achieved an open feel, while still maintaining privacy. The high windows in the living room prevent neighbors from looking into the room. On the other side of the house, Webber specified frosted windows above the eat-in area in the kitchen. For exterior privacy, Webber used a trellis and fence on one side of the house and the addition on the other to form a cozy outdoor area.

The color palette plays a large part in both separating and connecting the living room, hallway, dining room, family room, and kitchen. Webber used about 15 colors in the house.

Elder wanted to control costs on the project, and Webber responded by specifying standard materials. “It’s more interesting to use cheap material in interesting ways than to throw money at marble and granite,” Webber says.

For the windows, he chose simulated divided light units with insulating glass that were more cost-effective than the original true divided lights. For the porch and driveway, instead of their original idea of stone, he used standard concrete pavers. He designed them in a bold striped pattern to add appeal.
Similarly, he suggested using standard 4-inch-square ceramic tile for both bathrooms, applied in an interesting pattern. The idea was good, but the execution took a little time. Balmuth said Elder designed the tile pattern as the subcontractor was laying the tile, so the initial installation took longer than expected. When it was finished, Balmuth wasn’t happy with the quality of the tile work. He hired another tile sub to redo it, which doubled the cost of the tile work. He paid the cost out of pocket, like he did with the fireplace. Though the cabinetry was all custom, Balmuth says compared to stock companies, local millwork shops deliver better quality cabinets on a more timely basis. Plus, local cabinetmakers will hang the boxes and attach the doors.


The master suite addition provides a private area for the homeowners. The crucial step was tying the roof of the addition to the existing roof. Balmuth says the angles and lines were complicated. “It took a week to get the geometry right on the pitch,” he explains.

The bathroom is at the end of the addition and includes a bump out for the large bathtub. “The tub ‘pavilion’ is the conceptual anchor that holds down the rest of the sprawling addition,” Webber says. The master suite fits between two trees that defined how large the addition could be and where it would fit in the yard.

Webber accented the exterior with a metal roof that extends out onto decorative rafters. Balmuth wrapped the exterior with narrow pine siding. An angled concrete base painted dark gray anchors the structure and accents the slab-on-grade foundation. Balmuth says from the outside, the “pavilion” seems to stand alone as a separate little building.

On the main house, Webber specified wood, durable fiber-cement siding, and new limestone to match the existing stonework, noting that the combination of materials adds interest to the elevation.

For the front of the house, Balmuth augmented the existing limestone with new, but the blocks were not as weathered as the 50-year-old stone. To blend in the new stone, he pulled all the stone off the house, randomly mixed the old and new, and reinstalled it.

Balmuth installed the wood lap siding on the remainder of the front as well as on the sides of the house. He chose cypress instead of the local standard of redwood or cedar because it was more readily available and came from a reliable supplier. On the back of the house, the trio chose to use fiber cement.

On contractor Paul Balmuth’s suggestion, the roof over the walkway to the garage was changed from the architect’s specification of Plexiglas to a polycarbonate material. Balmuth brought in a sample of the PCSS twinwall sheet, a clear product that filters out 98% of UV Rays but still allows light to pass through. The sheet, which is made by Jamesville, Wis.-based Polygal, is usually used for greenhouse construction. The material cuts easily with a saw and knife, and Balmuth thinks it looks better than acrylic, which is 30% cheaper.

Balmuth attached the material using screws with rubber grommets driven through pre-drilled holes that were large enough to allow the material to expand and contract. Balmuth found clear caps to prevent water from getting through the unfinished ends and discoloring the material. He also sealed the fastener holes with silicone.